Special thanks to NASA for allowing me to use this photo taken by the Hubble telescope.

Monday, January 11, 2010

The Truth Rolls

I was out of town on business, just passing through this small town when I was struck with an urge to go bowling.  When was the last time I threw the old 16 pounder?  It had been months, but it was for occasions such as this that I always take the old fashioned solid black orb with me on trips.  After locating an alley using the GPS system in the rental car, I quickly found myself standing in the strangest bowling establishment I had ever seen.

The place looked like a bowling alley, smelled like a bowling alley (not always a good thing), but it didn't sound like one and it did not take me long to discover why.  The clerk at the front desk looked at me sort of sideways as I paid for my lane rental; actually, he was looking at my bag. Weirdo!

I settled into my lane and since the place wasn't full there were several lanes between me and the nearest bowlers.  After a few mild stretches, I pulled "Blane" out of it's bag.  I didn't name the ball; it had the monogram on it from the previous owner.  Bowlers are very sentimental.  In this alley; however, bowlers were just mental!

The elusive 300 was calling me.  I could feel it in my bones.  The lane was a little scratched up and didn't appear to be oiled properly; but I was prepared for that and would not be discouraged.  These lanes were gonna be cheesy cakes.  After polishing Blane  up a bit in order to get my patented snap curve to effectively crush the pocket, I approached the pins.

The pins were just asking to be knocked over; I could hear them mocking me.  For a split second, I thought I actually heard someone mocking me.  Focusing, the pins stood no chance.  Blane rolled triumphantly down the right side of the lane, when at the last second he broke hard left.  Now the place sounded like a bowling alley!  I pumped my fist into the air with pride waiting for the big red X.  Sneaking a peek to determine if there were any witnesses; I was temporarily satisfied to spy a few.  They had a odd look of disbelief; almost as if they'd never seen a strike before.

"Must be my ball", I thought.  The old solid rubber sphere often caught a few folks off guard when it worked this effectively.  Not many can throw the antiques with such accuracy.  I could never see myself with a glossy colorful acrylic ball.  Imagine Knute Rockne with a face guard and giant padded plastic helmet or Bobby Hull even wearing a helmet.  You never heard a "plink" coming from Sam Snead's driver.  No, I was old fashioned, old school, backwards, or whatever label you wanted to pin on the guy refusing to upgrade to the latest and greatest.  I was also wrong.  The dumb-founded looks I received were about my ball, but not because it was rubber or because it was black or because it was old.  The small crowd now making me feel extremely uncomfortable could not believe I was using a ball that was round.

You read that last part correctly.

At first I did not notice, but now it became clear that a few of the folks were holding bowling balls that were not balls at all.

Fred was the first one to break the silence.  "What do you call that?" he said pointing his pudgy finger at Blane.  Holding Blane as if it were my firstborn; I didn't know how to respond.

Before I could muster a response, a rough-looking woman wearing jeans that would make proper bowling form an impossibility spoke up.  "Aw Fred, can't you see he's a newbie."

I tried to lighten the mood, "Haven't you ever seen a cranker before?  haha uuuh"  No clue.

"Fred, show him how it's done around here." one of the older patrons demanded.

Fred approached my lane with the coolest box I had ever seen!  Wow! "What have you got in there!" I asked.  No reply came; just a muffled snort from the massive man.  I watched in amazement as Fred took a polishing rag and rubbed that bright blue box to a perfect shine.  An odd-looking pair of young fellows in matching orange shirts snuck about half-way down the lane on each side to get a better view of what was about to transpire.

What is in that box?  It was driving me mad.  Then Fred approached the lane still holding the box. His fingers were in it!  That box had holes in it like a bowling ball.  Fred rumbled down the approach like a walrus heading into the ocean.  I almost screamed out in fear at the site.  The release was similar to mine; but with twice as much wrist action.  That delivery would have sent my ball exiting stage left into the gutter within 30 feet.

That box tumbled and bounded down the lane, sliding to almost a complete halt about three quarters of the way down.  "No one could expect that thing to make it all the way down there to the pins!"  I said; thankfully, just to myself.

As the perfectly square blue box was about to stop on the left side; one of the orange men picked it up and flung it the last 20 feet knocking over five pins.

"That's the third strike your incompetence has cost me today!" yelled Fred.  The young fella hung his head in shame.  The other twin disappeared down the far side of the alley and re-emerged with the same blue cube huffing and puffing it all the way delivering it carefully to Fred.

Fred repeated the effort, but this time it was Thing 2 that completed the mission by tossing the box against the remaining pins.  The place erupted into applause as Fred had scored the strangest spare I had ever seen. Unfortunately, the score tallied on my sheet and ruined my chance at a perfect game (not that I really had much of one in the first place).

The small crowd seemed content that their point was made.  I was flabbergasted.  Do I go back to bowling? Put Blane up and head out?  I started looking for hidden cameras, but didn't see any.

"Um, that was a good pick up, Fred." I meekly stated to the local bowling hero.

"That is how it's done, stranger." Fred retorted implying I should follow suit.

I'm ashamed to tell you what I did next.  I spotted a few of those three-holed cubes, where the house balls would normally be kept.  These were not as shiny as Fred's, but I managed to find one that my fingers could hold. It was awkward to say the least, but I thought, "When in Rome...".

"Here goes nothing." I thought and that was exactly what was coming.  My dull fuchsia box stood no chance of reaching the - I don't know what to call them - guys on the sides of the lane.  It bounced and pounded the narrow planks violently as it slid into the gutter about a third of the way down.  Muffled coughs and a few giggles.

My second throw was even weaker as something snapped in my right throwing shoulder. Left-side gutter boy tossed the box as far as he could, but it bounced into the next lane sending his partner diving onto the oily floor out of the way.

Being laughed at is never a good time.  I learned long ago that it was easier to just go along with it.  A half-hearted laugh was stopped short thanks to the sharp pain I felt in my shoulder.  The box just wasn't designed to be thrown like a ball.

A diet soda was in order only because I didn't drink anything stronger.  Thing #1 joined me climbing onto the barstool with his wiry frame.  His beer was bigger than his head.  "Sorry about that, I usually throw better than that. My name is Sid, by the way."  "Nice to meet you, Sid. Don't sweat it." Maybe Sid could help me figure out what was going on in this place.

"Why don't they use traditional bowling balls here?" was my first attempt.  All I got was a frothy "Huh?".  "Why do the folks bowl with cubes here?"  "What else are you gonna bowl with?" was his reply.  "I've worked in this alley for 25 years (I could have sworn he wasn't a day over 30!) and I ain't never seen anyone come in here and sling a giant marble down our lanes like you did tonight.  That was the dumbest stunt I've ever seen."

Her name tag read "Jez Bell" on it and that didn't surprise me one bit.  "Do you want a refill before you finish your game?  I hope you are not thinking of using that creepy ball again.  This is a family friendly establishment and I'm sure it's bound to offend some of our customers."

I was at a tipping point and couldn't help but respond with the obvious, "Why would a bowling ball offend anyone in a bowling alley?"  Sid jumped off and glared at me pointing down at my bag.  "I don't care what you call that thing!  It don't belong in here!."

Just when I thought Sid was going to hyperventilate, a tall man puffing a giant cigar entered to my right.   "The name is Charles, sir, and I own this bowling alley." "Howdy" was my reply as I slipped into my native Texan vernacular.  "Folks around here call me CD.  I used to be a disc jockey and the nickname stuck.  Would you mind if I had a word with you in private."  CD's cigar had to go; I was about to suffocate.  I felt I was riding in a convertible stuck in traffic behind a old diesel truck.

CD continued, "I bought this alley 30 years ago.  I brought bowling to this town. Used to be a professional bowler myself; I taught everyone here how to bowl from the time they were old enough to pick up a 6 pound cube."  "If you are a professional, then why the cubes?" I interrupted.  CD was visibly upset.  His cheek twitched as he dropped his cigar on the carpet grinding it into the thick shag with his snake skin boots.  A couple of sideways glances and then he responded just a tick above a whisper in a pitch higher than he used before.  "What else would we use?"  "I taught these people everything they know about bowling and I will not have you or anyone else coming in here and causing trouble."  His voice descending in pitch and ascending in volume as he spoke.

By now Fred and a few others had strolled up next to CD; the few others were carrying pool sticks.  Sweat beads formed on my forehead.  "Can I see your ball, mister?"  The childlike voice came from a girl I hadn't noticed before; she couldn't be older than 14.  Sid quickly tried to corral her away, but she slipped under his reach.  "Girl, you git back to work!" He snapped.  "Daddy, I just wanted to look at the ball! Did you see what he did with it?  It even came back to him, without you having to fetch it."

"Sid, can you control your daughter and take her home before I have to fire her and you." CD growled.  "Yesir! We're going now, Katy! Get your stuff."  And I watched in silence as the last hint of intelligent life was dragged by her father out of the building.

"She's got a few points there you all might consider!"  I tried to keep it light-hearted and appeal to reason.  "This sport was designed with a ball in mind, the ball-retriever, the lanes, and..." Thwack!

As I came to, nearly choking to death on CD's cigar smoke, I was disappointed to realize I was not dreaming.  That would have been such a welcome relief.

"You caused quite a stir here tonight!" The man said leaning over my face from his seated position.  "Let me help you up. Do you pass out like that very often?" he said in such a pleasant manner.  "Um, no, not that I can remember."  I wasn't about to press the issue as I felt for the knot on my skull.

"Well we are closed, and here is your bag. I trust you will be leaving town tonight?"  Was that a question?  "Yep, I'm just passing through."

"If you come this way again, I trust you will not be bringing this with you." as he handed me my bowling bag.  "Not sure when I'll be coming through this way again." There was no way I was ever gonna drive anywhere near this town again!  I might avoid the whole state.

I started to walk out the door when a nagging need to know overwhelmed my good senses.  "CD, why did you lie to these folks about bowling?"

CD creepily put his arm around my shoulder and squeezed it where it hurt the most.  "This town worships me.  I'm the mayor, the sheriff, the judge, the doctor, the professor, and landlord of all property.  What I say goes.  These people do what I say, how I say it, and thank me for saying it.  If it takes telling them that bowling with cubes, fertilizing their lawns with milkshakes, or that moonlight with peel their skin off to get them to do what I say; I'll lie.  It is all about control!"   I expected a "Muhahaaha" to follow that.

"It took me years to get folks to forget about bowling balls.  This alley was built by one of my adversaries in the PBA, Earl Anthony; they called him "The Square".  I hated that guy and I swore I'd never let anyone beat me again -- bowling cubes did the trick.  A fitting mockery, don't you think?"

"He donated the alley to the town to raise money for a sick boy. They raised enough money for that boy that he eventually got better; he never amounted to anything though.  What a waste that Sid turned out to be.  Never seemed to fit in."

I was sufficiently creeped out and managed to duck from under the old man's grip. "Well, I better be going." I resisted the temptation to run.  I was certain he was debating on whether to allow me to leave.  I caught Fred's glare from a bar stool and gave a little wave.  Sometimes I just get a little too cocky!

Fred was 50 feet on my heels as I deposited my bag and shut the trunk of the Pontiac rental.

Terrified, I fumbled for the keys. "Where were they?".  "The bag!"  I was dead meat.  I closed my eyes to pray for help.  Tap, Tap, TAP.

I peeked out the window into the big green eyes of that inquisitive girl.  Sid was right behind her, leaning over he whispered something I couldn't hear.  I opened the door and started to get out when Sid and Katy jumped into the backseat.  "Step on it, stranger!" Sid shouted.

"The car isn't even running!" Who were these people? I thought to myself. Don't they know about cars?

"Oh, sorry. Lock your keys in the trunk?"  I was surprised by the suddenly enlightened Sid.  A little embarrassed and increasingly anxious, I replied "Yeah, and Fred is getting closer."  Sid pulled some secret compartment out of the way and set the backseat middle armrest to the side.  Then he managed to squeeze my bag through a portal where the seat used to be.  I was in awe.  Sid's IQ just cleared triple digits in my estimation.  "Here you go." as he tossed me the keys.

Too late.

Fred practically ripped the door off trying to get into the passenger side.  I dropped the keys in the floor just as any typical terrified blonde would have done; except this was real and Freddie was not in my dreams.  Not to mention the fact that I have brown hair and am a middle-aged successful business man.

Katy leaned over and with a toothy grin unlocked the passenger side door.  Unbelievable!

"Uncle Fred wouldn't hurt a fly!" she exclaimed.  "I'm not so sure about that, my brother looks pretty upset to me" came Sid's rebuttal.  Fred was in. . .barely.

He had to scoot a little too close to me for my comfort to fit into the mid-sized car.  Fred was a monster of a man and now he was going to rip my head off.  BANG!!! The shotgun blast ricocheted off the hood.  Now what!

CD was running as fast as a 75 year old man with ash trays for lungs can run.  "Are you gonna sit there or git us out of here!" Fred shouted.

I fired up the engine, slammed it into reverse, bumped into the giant neon sign that glowed "Bowling Alley", and peeled out of there like Burt Reynolds in Smokey and the Bandit.    As I adjusted the rear view mirror to see around Fred, I noticed the flickering neon sign that now read "Earl's Bowling Alley".   It was a beautiful reminder in the sky; impossible to miss unless you just weren't paying attention.  That is, it was for a whole 10 seconds until CD shot out the lights with his shotgun; thankfully, he wasn't shooting as us any longer.

The despot's devilish deception of this town blinded these folks from the true joy of bowling and who knows what else.  Did they really fertilize their lawns with milkshakes?  The moon was peeking over the horizon as we hasted away from the grizzly scene.  Sid and Katy had crawled into the trunk through the hatch and Fred was peeking up at me from the floorboard.  I have no idea how he fit down there.  I sighed at the realization these folks really needed my help.

"Will you teach us how to bowl?" Fred was crying, and then. . .so was I.

2 comments:

  1. Good read! Keep it up...Russell

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  2. Modified the story a bit on April 13, 2010. Felt it needed some tweeks.

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